Frontline's "Modern Meat" painted a picture of an efficient and innovative U.S. meat industry whose evolution is a credit to technology, hard work and steady consumer demand. More than 95 percent of Americans consume U.S. meat products, and the show accurately stated that consumers today pay a far smaller percentage of their income for meat than they did in the 1970s. Unfortunately, the show did not include yesterday's announcement from CDC, USDA and HHS that U.S. foodborne illness rates have declined in the past five years, that improved livestock and poultry slaughter practices have contributed to that decline, and that the incidence of Salmonella on raw meat and poultry has also declined dramatically in the same time period.
We are disappointed that the U.S. meat and poultry industry's track record of continuous food safety improvements, such as those documented and praised by federal government officials yesterday, were not highlighted in last night's “Modern Meat” broadcast. If consumers derived all of their knowledge about our industry and the safety of its products from the “Modern Meat” show, they would have major knowledge gaps and serious misperceptions.
Like all industries, ours has faced challenges over the years. In the food safety arena, we have tackled problems aggressively, advocating science and technology over politics and perceptions. Just in the past decade, working with government, consumers and researchers, we have completely revamped the federal inspection program, added safe handling labels for consumers to all raw meat and poultry packages, invented and implemented millions of dollars of new food safety technologies in our plants, retrained our workforce in food safety practices, instituted mandatory microbial testing for pathogens and indicator organisms on raw products and launched a public-private partnership to educate consumers about how they can help prevent foodborne illness. The fact is, our industry benefits by selling the safest possible meat to the consumer.
While our industry's achievements were sold short in "Modern Meat," we are pleased that the new public health and product data released by the government yesterday show the value of investments in food safety technology by meat companies and in investments in a new and more science-based meat inspection system by the Department of Agriculture.
Despite the frustrations this type of coverage causes our industry, 500,000 workers and 7,000 USDA inspectors are busy in thousands of U.S. meat and poultry plants today, doing their best to continue to produce the safest, most plentiful and most affordable meat and poultry supply anywhere in the world. It's too bad "Modern Meat" did not give them the credit they deserve.